Another Side Of Bob Dylan
The 2007 film "I'm Not There" was about Bob Dylan, but his name was never mentioned and his many personas were played by different actors. So, which Dylan is represented on "Another Side Of Bob Dylan"? I read that this August, 1964 album sold less than the preceding one, "The Times They Are A-Changing". I also read that people were puzzled by it and didn't quite know how to react to it upon its release. Having heard the whole thing now in 2014 for the first time, I understand why. Only 7 months after the previous album's release, Dylan unveiled a new music that would soon captivate the world. Abandoning his position as the purveyor of, in his own words "finger-pointing songs", Dylan's songwriting combined social comment ("Chimes Of Freedom") with topical humor ("I Shall Be Free - No. 10" and "Motorpsycho Nightmare") and songs about self-analysis ("My Back Pages" and "Black Crow Blues") and personal relationships ("All I Really Want To Do", "Spanish Harlem Incident", "To Ramona", "I Don't Believe You", "Ballad In Plain D", "It Ain't Me Babe"), moving away from traditional folk music and towards the world of pop currently ruled by The Beatles and similar bands, adding insights from his own unique perspective. Even though the electric guitar was still not used, the melodies were generally more buoyant, the mood generally MUCH lighter, and the lyrics were beginning to exhibit a lot of enigmatic imagery, stream-of-consciousness and clever wordplay to a greater degree than on his previous albums. Dylan the activist was becoming Dylan the pop poet. On this album he planted the seeds for a sound and style that would change pop/rock music forever, and would also make him a major pop/rock force. No wonder his folk-oriented, activist fans, most of whom viewed pop music with contempt, were puzzled, turned off by what was in their eyes a blatant quest for fame. Just to show how influential the album was, 4 of these songs were covered by The Byrds (3 of them on their debut album), and another one, "It Ain't Me Babe", was a big hit for The Turtles.
Just like his previous album, this one is a one-man show, with Bob singing all vocals and playing guitar, harmonica and, on "Black Crow Blues", honky-tonk piano. Just that piano performance alone will clue you in to the fact that this is a different, lighter album. But you would know that already from the first track, "All I Really Want To Do", in which he tells a prospective girlfriend all the things that he DOES NOT want to do, among them, "I ain't lookin' to block you up, shock or knock or lock you up". He is having so much fun that he actually laughs audibly twice during the song. Deliberate humor is evident in "I Shall Be Free - No. 10", a topical rap about such topics as Cassius Clay, the Russians, Barry Goldwater, Cuba and "a weird monkey, very funky". He comes to the conclusion that "I'm a poet and I know it, hope I don't blow it." Still more humor is found in "Motorpsycho Nightmare", in which a weary Dylan seeks refuge at a farmer's house. His troubles start when "In comes his daughter whose name was Rita/She looked like she stepped out of La Dolce Vita", and the fun continues as Rita turns out to be like a female Tony Perkins from "Psycho".
Other relationships are more realistic. In "Spanish Harlem Incident", he is fascinated by a gypsy girl with "pearly eyes so fast and slashing, and your flashing diamond teeth". "To Ramona" is a Mexican-inflected country/folk love song. Dylan soothes Ramona and tries to build up her self-image: "There's no one to beat you/No one to defeat you/'Cept the thoughts of yourself feeling bad". "I Don't Believe You" is about rejection, but the mood is lighthearted so it must not have been too serious an affair. But, "Ballad In Plain D" is dead serious, about love that apparently leads to violence. The violence is implied, not specifically spelled out. And in "It Ain't Me Babe", Dylan is determined to discourage an admirer who wants "someone who's never weak but always strong...someone to open each and every door...someone who'll promise never to part...someone who'll come each time you call". It ain't him, babe.
Dylan did not completely forget his old fanbase. In "Chimes Of Freedom", a long poetic song in which those chimes are generated metaphorically by a thunderstorm, we find imagery such as this description of lightning: "Electric light still struck like arrows, fired but for the ones condemned to drift or else be kept from drifting". Dylan's chimes are for all outcasts, underdogs, the deaf, the blind, the mute, refugees, lonesome lovers, people unjustly imprisoned, and finally, "for every hung-up person in the whole wide Universe". But, on the other hand, in "My Back Pages" the former self-assured activist ("Good and bad, I define these terms/Quite clear, no doubt, somehow") finds "lies that life is black and white" and concludes: "Ah, but I was so much older then/I'm younger than that now."